Monday, 9 June 2014

Gridlock written by Russell T Davies and directed by Richard Clark



This story in a nutshell: The Doctor gets stuck in Bank Holiday traffic!

Mockney Dude: The look on the Doctor’s face when Martha suggests that they visit the world of the Time Lords fully justifies the junking of Gallifrey, its staggeringly emotional. The Doctor talks about Gallifrey with such poetry now so clearly he didn’t know what he had until it was gone because he used to slag them off terribly! Wild eyed and rain slicked, he looks like a force of nature dashing about the back streets of New New York seeking out his companion. Tennant screams ‘MAAAAAARFAAAAA!’ in exactly in the same way McCoy always used to scream ‘HAAAAACE!’ so maybe he has had tips from the fellow Scotsman. His wrath towards the mood sellers is frightening, when the Doctor discovered the Vraxion smuggling in Nightmare of Eden he was quietly appalled but after all the events in his life since then all of that kind of quiet pretence has dropped away and he really goes for them. Only the Doctor would consider jumping onto the roof of the next car down, its completely insane…and a bit magnificent. When Brannigan calls him a magician you can’t help but believe him. If you ever need a reminder of how good David Tennant was in the role go and watch the last scene that he makes extremely emotional without having to raise his voice. It always makes me prickle at the eyes. If you needed a reminder that this guy is the Doctor then catch the furious climax as he rushes from one crisis to another and tears down the walls that is keeping this civilisation trapped. Sometimes Davies got it absolutely spot on.

Marvellous Martha: I can understand why people didn’t enjoy Martha’s mooning over the unobservant Doctor but I found it infinitely preferable to Rose’s jealousy act in the second season. I find Martha a much more likable, less selfish character so even if I want to slap her around the face and tell her to get a life (which always makes me punch the air with delight in Last of the Time Lords when she finally tells him to get off) I still feel really sorry for her. It doesn’t help that the clueless Doctor is taking her to the same places he took Rose (ever heard of rebound) except Martha gets the slums where Rose had the palaces. I really enjoyed Martha ripping the honesty patch from Cheen when she discovered she was pregnant, hostage or not Martha is still a Doctor in training. Her reaction to being told 10 miles will take them 6 years is a scream and even better is her ‘wow, that’s like…crazy!’ at the extreme lack of speed that is spoken about in some awe. Sometimes she thinks the Doctor likes her but sometimes she thinks he just needs someone around. It's crazy (but understandable) that these girls are all making the same hasty decisions, like Rose Martha didn’t even think about the consequences of travelling with the Doctor and her family wouldn’t even know if she were to die on another planet. Martha expresses incredible faith in the Doctor, which is always lovely to see although hardly justified given their brief time together. She gets her very first scream as the Macra casually tosses the car about. I love the way she sits down on the chair like a stubborn child, refusing to leave until the Doctor tells her about his past. The moment they share at the climax brings them closer together.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘They don’t exactly look like Empire builders to me!’
‘You Are Not Alone.’

The Good Stuff: Gridlock features a truly bonkers first scene that sets the tone for the episode magnificently - characters straight from American Gothic are attacked inside a tiny box car by an unseen menace. It's visually bizarre and staggeringly dramatic, Doctor Who hasn't been quite this confidently surreal for an age. Davies takes the opportunity to take hold of a location that he has already created and give it greater substance and detail, bringing back New New Earth but introducing us to the uglier side of it's culture. Everything is grittier than it was in New Earth from the location work to the tone to the ingredients such as the Face of Boe and the Cat People. There is a lovely dark thread throughout the episode where selling moods is compared to selling drugs and the script never hides the truth of the matter. Kidnapping, guns, the Underworld – there is a lovely gritty 2000AD kick to this story that makes it feel as though it has just stepped out of a graphic novel. It isn't just a series of very cool images though, there are some real brains and emotion behind this story too. The FX team should be justly proud of the series of shots depicting the utter madness and monotony of the gridlocked traffic jams - they completely justify the mad premise of the episode. I tried to resist, really I did, but the kitten crying ‘ma-ma!’ melted my heart away. For such a barmy idea Davies has put some real thought into making this feel like a real culture, these people have children on the motorway, recycle waste products as food, use muscle stimulants and have a shared faith, singing hymns together to boost morale. If there was a better scene that depicts the sheer indomitably of human willpower in a crisis than the shared hymn I have yet it to see it in Doctor Who. I know it is trying to bring a tear to my eye (like a great deal of the Davies era) but it succeeds because this it is such an optimistic view of humanity surviving under pressure. Oh and the hymn isn't bad either. The difference between the culture in Gridlock and the culture in The Beast Below (both of which are basically absurd when studied in any depth) is that this one feels emotionally real. I can buy into it because Davies has tapped into my core (it has far less plotting and character issues than The Beast Below too but this is for another time).  Whilst I have no comment on the Cassini sisters themselves (aside from the fact that it is nice to see lesbians in Who rather than Davies' penchant for gay men...I never thought I would write that sentence in a Doctor Who review), but I love their chintzy cabin…it looks just how you would imagine a spaceship owned by two old ladies would look. The snapshots into the various cabins that the Doctor makes a whirlwind tour off work for the amount of screen time they have to fill (although I could have done with a little more time in the nudist one...) and provide some humour and colour. Imagine going on a speed dating session with this lot? Albinos (complete with a bubble wrap inspired cabin), punk Chinese babes (terrifying), nudist (wey-hey!), a man who is blushing from head to foot (he opts for a red, furry cabin) and the bizarre black feline humanoid from the trailer travelling with two blonde children (there is a whole other story there surely?). You ever wanted to experience the diversity of alien races in Doctor Who then you need look no further than Gridlock. Credit to the make up and costume designers, the cat people look uncannily convincing as an alien race. It is very subtle but there is clearly an age difference between the Novice Haim we met in New Earth and the one we meet in Gridlock. No self respecting fan would fail to have a fangasm at the reveal of the Macra. I remember when I first watched this episode on transmission and the fug started to recede in the under city and squinting in delight I suspected that it was the Macra that were scuttling down in the depths. But no, my brain said, RTD would never bring back the Macra. Nobody knows who they are - they are far too obscure (and barely a success in the day) a monster to go mainstream. Imagine my delight (I was bouncing about on the chair like a kid at Christmas much to the bemusement of my husband) when the Doctor uttered that it was the Macra and they were suddenly visible in glorious pincer snapping CGI. This was a treat just for the fans (although I bet they received a great many more fans from kids watching this and screaming at Martha's shuttle as it weaves in and out of their snapping claws). Davies is superb at scripting bursts of choking emotion in his scripts, pretty much every one of his stories has one moment that winds me with a moment of emotional honesty (even something as tonally jarring as New Earth has that incredibly moving final scene) and in Gridlock there are several such scenes but the most affecting one comes with the reveal of the dead Senate, a vast room full of corpses. My perception of the story I  have been watching is completely turned on its head in an instant when it is revealed that the people on the motorway have been saved, not lost. The music when the Face of Boe dies is remarkably tender and poignant. It is a track that I have listened to ad nauseum on the series 3 soundtrack. In fact much of Gridlock showcases Murray Gold at his finest, from the sweeping emotion of the reveal of the Senate to the optimistic showmanship of the Doctor leaping from car to car. I love the last scene because it strips away all the fireworks and madness and comes down to two people being honest with each other and forging a friendship. After all the lunacy of the episode that has played out, Davies presents what this story has really been about: breaking down barriers between the Doctor and Martha Jones. The hymn and the pull away from the motorway as they reached the climax tugs at the heartstrings and we are presented with one of the most convincing futuristic cityscapes I have ever seen on television. Bravo, Millennium FX.

The Shallow Bit: Travis Oliver is one of the sexiest things Doctor Who ever dished up. Freema Agyeman somehow manages to be smoking hot without ever feeling as though she is trying.

Result: Even by Doctor Who’s standards this story is weird. No other show would produce something as insanely unique as Gridlock and every time that happens it makes me love the show just that little bit more. There are plenty of layers (in both a narrative and emotional sense) to Davies New New Earth from the Underworld dodgy dealing to the people trapped on the motorway to the epic landscape of the city above, we travel up these layers a learn so much about this world as we do. Gridlock manages to explore its world in some depth because we are always on the move, juggle some whacky concepts and characters, exciting with some visually arresting set pieces and delivering a handful of some of the most emotive moments in the series to date. Not bad at all for a 45 minute episode that juggles a genuinely epic narrative. David Tennant seems so much more comfortable in series three and is delivering one knock-out performance after another (he's even better in series four where he reaches his zenith) and Freema Agyeman gets to carry a sub plot of her own and prove that she is no slough either. Aesthetically it is one of the bolder Doctor Who stories (whacky races would be an acceptable description) and every aspect of the production team is committed to pulling off Davies' vision with absolute conviction. I cannot predict what genre/subject Davies will attempt to conquer next, so far he has tried his hand at an intimate character study, a SF spectacular, political satire, post-modern commentary on reporting, two life and death end of season blockbusters, a Christmas invasion, screwball comedy, gothic horror/celebrity historical, a satire on Doctor Who fans (literally pulling the show inside out and proving how far it can be bent out of shape and still be Doctor Who) and an medical thriller on the moon. Now we can add a treatise on faith and forgiveness to that list all wrapped up in a deliciously oddball setting. He's the most unpredictable of Doctor Who writers (far more unpredictable than Moffat would prove to be when he became show-runner), always trying a stab at something new and very often achieving hugely entertaining results. Wait until his efforts in season four. This is Doctor Who and Davies in particular firing on all cylinders and shows the tenth Doctor and Martha shaping up to be an extremely effective team. Top drawer: 9/10

2 comments:

Barry Sharp said...

Also notable (among some) for being an episode of the new series that Lawrence Miles really, really liked.

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